The Journey: Top Rising Forward Prospects – Late-Round Edition

Dave Hall

2020-07-11

Well, it's official. Barring any further complications or spikes in cases over the next three weeks, we are poised to have playoff hockey and tons of it. While I certainly had my reservations regarding the resumption of play, once everyone is placed in their respected bubbles, I do admit that this can certainly work. 

If you are curious about any prospects joining their teams as a member of the expanded rosters, I recommended you check out my previous June editions of The Journey where I covered each conference. 

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Now, for the task at hand. Dobber recently dropped his Top 200 Forward Prospect rankings for the month of July, which once again had its share of risers and fallers. Seeing as I have seen many dynasty leagues starting up, one of which I am involved in, I thought I would focus on players towards the bottom of the list, those who generally get left out of the conversation.

Here are a couple of deep option risers for you to target in the later rounds that I believe could provide with some upside down the road. 

Samuel Walker Tampa Bay Lightning

Rankings – April: 188, May: 190, July: 175

Position: Center

Two seasons into his NCAA career with the Golden Gophers, Walker has proven to be a consistent point producer as well as a leader on the ice. Despite dropping to the seventh round in the 2017 entry draft, he has taken giant leaps in becoming one of the Lightning’s most talked-about prospects. His size had always been a lingering issue, however, now listed at 6-0, 170 lbs., he seems to be gaining size at a rapid rate. 

Considered somewhat of a "boom or bust" player, I believe Walker is a worthy gamble. Playing on such a high-powered organization could either provide either a perfect environment for him to thrive in, or hinder him from moving up the rankings. Yet, if he slides to an appropriate round, take a flyer and enjoy the ride. 

Nico SturmMinnesota Wild

Rankings – April: 183, May: 185, July: 138

Position: Center

The 6-3 German centerman enjoyed a very noteworthy AHL rookie campaign, racking up 32 points in 55 games. After going undrafted, he earned himself a one-year deal with the Wild following a respectable NCAA career in which he compiled 103 points through 118 games. Sturm should expect a new deal before next season, meaning he could find himself in a rotation with the big club as early as next season.

While he is most noted for his sound two-way game, there have been sure signs of untapped offensive skill. Should he crack the lineup, expect a bottom-six role, and should add decent peripherals while providing marginal offensive production. Nothing fancy here, but worth definitely the late pick.

Matej PekarBuffalo Sabres

Rankings – April: 259, May: 181, July: 168

Position: Left Wing 

Pekar has been rolling up the rankings as of late, thanks to an above-average season in the OHL. Splitting time between the Barrie Colts and Sudbury Wolves respectively, he posted 63 points through 51 games, while also representing the Czechs at this year’s WJC. 

Skating and all-around offensive talent may not be his forte. However, he plays a hard-nosed game and can finish off plays when in the appropriate spots. He is menace on the ice and is poised to become one of the league's future bullies. With the Sabres lacking depth on the right side, Pekar could find a home in the future among their bottom six. Assuming that becomes a reality, you can expect a decent haul in the hits and shot block department, while he could chip in for the occasional goal or two. 

Egor AfanasyevNashville Predators

Rankings – April: 289, May: 286, July: 160

Position: Left Wing 

With 67 points over a 62-game rookie-season with the Windsor Spitfires (OHL), Afanasyev continues to build a strong case to be mentioned among the top of Predators' prospects. He's got very soft hands, especially for player standing 6-4, and can provide offense on both ends of the spectrum – filling the net as well as dishing it out.

While he is still a few years away from seeing NHL action, his ability to play either wing should give his stock a nice boost. Despite his stature, his physical game needs much work, as does his skating. However, if both can be developed, he carries middle-six upside and should find a home on the team’s special team unit. 

Shane BowersColorado Avalanche

Rankings – April: 217, May: 216, July: 169

Position: Center

While his spot on the depth chart has been overtaken by the likes of Alex Newhook, Shane Bowers continues to provide solid depth up the middle. He was acquired by the Avalanche back in 2017 as part of the Matt Duchene trade and finally took part in his inaugural professional season with the club's affiliate AHL club. He contributed 27 points in 48 games and at times, looked very solid. His development looks to have regained its traction after falling off the radar throughout his final two seasons in the NCAA. 

At this point, high offensive output is trending further away by the season. However, he is still projected to become a sound bottom-six skater with capabilities of sneaking in minutes with the club's top-six. If you can snag him late enough, Bowers is a perfect candidate for a late-round steal and could provide solid value.

 Lauri PajuniemiNew York Rangers

Ranking – April: 457, May: 458, July: 176

Position – Right Wing

The Rangers are sitting pretty in regards to their depth on the right side. However, Lauri Pajuniemi has been quietly jumping up the ranks and looks to be on the right path to make a push for a spot in the next few seasons. In his third year (two of them full seasons) with TPS of the top Finnish league (Liiga), he compiled a career-best 40 points over the course of 49 matches. His production on the team's top power-play unit was especially impressive, as he provided a whopping 13 goals and seven assists, good for half of his points.

While he is tabbed a skilled playmaker with soft hands, his 26-goal production has proven that he may have even more to offer. Not only did he lead his team in tallies, but sat fourth league-wide, falling just seven short from the league leader. He has yet to sign with the Rangers, yet, at just 20 years of age, he still has ample time to ink a deal and grow as a player. There are no clear guarantees that he pans out, but his recent outburst is surely a positive sign in regards to his trajectory. Draft late, but be very happy with the pick.

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I hope you all enjoy next week's hockey festivities, which include training camps. It's been a long hiatus, but right now it feels like Christmas in July. Stay tuned for the rising defenders, which will be coming in next week's installment.

Make sure to find me on Twitter @hall1289 for any subjects you are interested in. 

UPCOMING GAMES

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STARTING GOALIES

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HOT PLAYERS

  Players Team GP G A P
VICTOR HEDMAN T.B 6 3 5 8
JOHN KLINGBERG DAL 6 1 6 7
ALEXANDER RADULOV DAL 7 1 6 7
MATTIAS JANMARK DAL 4 1 2 3

LINE COMBOS

  Frequency MTL Players
32.5% JOEL ARMIA JONATHAN DROUIN NICK SUZUKI
20.9% PAUL BYRON MAX DOMI JESPERI KOTKANIEMI
17.5% PHILLIP DANAULT ARTTURI LEHKONEN TOMAS TATAR

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